Drowning in Mindless To-Dos? Carve Time for Moments of Inspiration

In 2016, I had the opportunity to hear Steve McClatchy, author of “Decide” and featured keynoter, speak at a business leadership conference. For those of you who haven’t read his best-selling book, McClatchy contends that essentially all the work and personal duties we regularly perform can be distilled down into one of two categories:

  • Pain, or tasks that are deadline-driven, mundane and come with steep consequences if not completed expediently
  • Gain, or pursuits that provide nourishment, stimulation and fulfillment and are often more strategic in nature

Perhaps unsurprisingly, pain tends to win out over gain every time. Or, as McClatchy writes: “It’s too difficult to think about pursuing Gain if we wait until all our energy is spent on Preventing Pain.”

Think of a common pain task in your world. If you are in marketing, perhaps it’s completing that monthly metrics report for your VP of Marketing to show how your content marketing channels—e.g. blog, social media and email marketing—performed. If you are a high school social studies teacher, it may be creating a worksheet to be handed out to your students by the end of the week.

Now think of gain.

If we use the same industries as an example, a gain task for a marketer might be spending 10 minutes every morning reading the latest blogs from the Content Marketing Institute (my favorite!) to just stay current. If you are a teacher, it may be thinking about how that lesson plan on the American Revolution can be adjusted ever so slightly to garner even more student enthusiasm.

See the difference?  

For some, prioritizing pain ahead of gain comes more naturally. Picture someone in your world who arrives 10 minutes early always, lays out their clothes the night before and rarely leaves dirty dishes in the sink. Chances are this individual is highly responsible, deadline-driven and discipline-oriented—more naturally gravitating towards pain-tasks.

Now, consider the “dreamer” in your circle. Perhaps this is the individual that can give you unconventional career advice as they tend to see paths not visible to others. Or maybe this is the friend who always seems to have read a great new book or caught the latest podcast from a best-selling author. In their world, gain tasks may be easier to prioritize than pain.  

No natural disposition is better, of course. Rather, it’s about recognizing where we most often fall in balancing our lives and making adjustments as needed.

For me, I am the former type. A few years ago when I took the Gallup StrengthsFinder Assessment, a test that helps you uncover your top five dominant strengths, I learned that Achiever and Discipline make up my top five strengths. These strengths sit in the execution zone and describe individuals who naturally achieve and enjoy high degrees of responsibility. But I also have Futuristic in my top five, or the ability to see clear vision and know how to lay the building blocks to get there. In fact, Futuristic is more dominant for me than Achiever and Discipline! You can only imagine how frustrated I get when I see myself naturally favoring my latter two strengths.

Related Post: Learning to Use Your Non-Dominant Hand

Recently, sensing that gain was losing to pain when it came to certain aspects of my life, I set out to tackle this challenge. I tried the to-do lists; to be fair, they helped a bit! I also started blocking time on my calendar for gain and defended that time allocated to these tasks—a tip McClatchy suggests. Starbucks became an even closer friend. But I wanted more. I wanted there to be a higher degree of accountability to keep my momentum strong.

So I called a great friend.

This friend is someone I have worked with for the past four years and who understands my pain vs. gain struggle and the work environments in which I thrive. Fortunately, he was in a similar place, having just completed a major career transition and wanting to more aggressively defend the time he spends on the strategic, versus detailed, tasks. We came up with the idea to be each other’s accountability coaches.

Every Wednesday morning before work we have a call and it is in fact on the calendar, as McClatchy suggests. We use that time to do two things:

  • Review progress we made since last week—and actively solicit feedback and input from one another
  • Assign ourselves “homework” for next week—and ask one another to hold each other accountable

Knowing that I have the call and homework “due” forces me to spend the time on completing gain tasks, whether that’s assembling a Board of Advisors for the Women in Leadership Nexus or finetuning workshops I plan to bring to corporations. We try to use the call to only talk about gain pursuits and, in so doing, each call leaves me feeling exhilarated.

When we are focused on gain we are dreaming, strategizing and evolving. We are challenging ourselves to reach a new potential. Maybe for you, blocking time on the calendar will suffice. Perhaps sticky notes scattered about your bedroom saying “Did you finish your book? It’s due back to the library on Tuesday” will do the trick. Or maybe you are like me and will need a combination of both and an accountability coach.

Either way, your gain tasks are reaching out to you and are ready for your attention. Are you ready to devote the time?

You May Also Like:

Carrie Majewski is committed to affecting change. As Founder of the Women in Leadership Nexus, Carrie is fueled by a desire to create safe space for female luminaries to convene to redefine the notion of leadership. She has forged a career around strategic writing and storytelling, having led a digital marketing agency for almost three years and today working as Marketing Principal for Trilix Tech. Carrie was named to the 2017 Rhode Island “40 Under 40” list and is a 2016 Rhode Island Tech10 Winner. In her spare time you'll find her trying out a local hip-hop class, exploring parks with her rescue dog Tori, and sipping coffee with other powerhouse women.